All relationships should be predicated on love, respect, honesty and communication. Unfortunately, many relationships fall short of this mark. Some, sadly, go so far as to be abusive. Relationships can be abusive without anyone ever lifting a threatening hand. In fact, psychological abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse -- and even harder to recognize. If you feel put down, discounted or worthless in a relationship, consider whether you are the victim of verbal abuse and, if so, take action to stop the abuse.
Recognize the abuse. This may sound obvious, but the fact is people tend to acclimate unknowingly to treatment patterns. If you grew up in a verbally abusive home, there is a good chance you will find yourself with a verbally abusive partner, or child. If you feel like you have to walk on egg shells or feel dread within your relationship, take a good look at the communication patterns in the relationship. Yelling, name-calling, excessive sarcasm, blame, constant insults, threats and orders are all verbal abuse tactics. If they are happening in your relationship, you need to recognize the abuse and change the pattern.
Take responsibility for your actions -- and your reactions. You can’t change your abuser; you can only change yourself. By controlling how you act, think, feel and react, you not only minimize your own victimization, but you also deny your abuser the reaction he is, consciously or unconsciously, seeking. You can choose to walk away from the conversation, laugh it off or detach with love. Remain in control of yourself and you eliminate another’s ability to control you -- which is ultimately what abuse is all about.
Establish firm and healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries are crucial for healthy relationships. A healthy boundary is a clear understanding of where you end and another person begins. Setting good boundaries requires a fair degree of self-reflection and self-respect. If you feel guilty whenever you say no to people, if you feel responsible for how your partner feels or if you place your partner's needs and feelings above yours, chances are you have difficulty setting appropriate boundaries. Consider self-study or a professional counselor to help you learn how to set healthy boundaries.
Refuse to be subjected to abuse. Once you have recognized verbal abuse tactics in your relationship, tell the other person that you have realized certain verbal actions make you uncomfortable. Inform him that you will not accept being spoken to in these ways. Name the abuse tactics, focusing on how he is speaking to you not what he is saying. When he speaks to you in the manner discussed, tell him simply and without emotional charge, “I’m sorry. I love you, but I can’t remain in this conversation when you speak to me this way.” Leave if you can, or tune out, but do not engage.
- If you are in an abusive relationship, chances are you struggle with valuing yourself as an individual. Counseling can be tremendously helpful when it comes to learning not only how to protect yourself from abuse, but how to value yourself in a relationship and in your life. If your internal voice exhibits verbal abuse tactics, consider finding a counselor to help you discover your own self-worth.
- Establishing boundaries in relationships, especially abusive relationships, can create a great deal of resistance. Be sure you have a support group, counselor or good friends to turn to as you learn to set boundaries to protect yourself from verbal abuse in your relationship.
- Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No, To Take Control of Your Life; Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
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